RIGHT OF REPLY: Atiku Abubakar and the Death of Identity Politics


By Richard Irikefe

In 2019, what Nigeria does not need is another Northern or Southern candidate or young or old leader or even Christian or Muslim leader.

The politics of identity, i.e. choosing a leader because of his identity rather than his ability, has failed us and will keep failing us for the simple reason that when you have a problem, you don’t look to where the person who can solve it comes from or how he worships his Creator. You just look to whether or not he can solve your problem.

And this is what Shaka Momodu failed to comprehend in his piece, ‘Musings on Atiku For President’, published on the back page of ThisDay on Friday 29th of September, 2017.

Nigeria is at a crossroads. We have been unashamedly and openly divided along the lines of 97% versus 5%. Every effort has been made by the man who considers himself the leader of the 97% to decimate the 5%.

The result has been recession, unprecedented division, a militarization of Nigeria like at no other time since the civil war and a threat to freedom of speech and association.

Those who freely threatened to unleash unprecedented bloodshed on others they termed ‘dog and baboon’ are unable to accept even the mildest criticism and want to give the ‘dog’ the bad name of ‘hate speech’.

Democracy is under threat with the introduction of the term ‘inconclusive election’ into our political lexicon even as aides of presidential declarants are arrested within hours of their declaration.

So thinking that politics of identity is what the situation of Nigeria calls for is an unfortunate situation.

In two years, the All Progressive Congress administration of Muhammadu Buhari has increased Nigeria’s indebtedness and the management of the economy is in fits and starts.

We need someone like an Atiku, who has had years of post retirement career as a successful businessman with a string of successful businesses that predate his re-entry into public service as Vice President in 1999 to help us generate the wealth that we need to avoid the Malthusian Trap that we are currently in.

Simply put, an administration that celebrates the end of recession with a paltry GDP growth rate of 0.55% in a country with a population growth rate of 2.6% obviously lacks the intellectual capacity to understand that unless our economy grows faster than our population, what awaits us is doom!

Obviously Atiku gets it, which was why when they were celebrating he said, and I quote “When all Nigerians can eat three square meals, that’s when the real recession ends. We have work to do.”

Nigeria needs a new leader. A leader who understands the problems of the Nigerian economy and can provide the needed leadership to fix it, create jobs for the scores of unemployed particularly the youth and put food on the table for struggling millions of families.

While the current administration ignores the challenge posed by herdsmen/farmers clashes (which is an economic issue, not a religious/ethnic issue) and whose stupid solution is to “import grass from Brazil”, Atiku Abubakar came up with the brilliant economic solution of setting up RICO Gado, a factory that produces livestock feeds of all types of livestock so our herdsmen can stop grazing and start ranching which will put an end to the clashes and the attendant deaths on both sides.

And what is Shaka’s main grouse about Atiku? Moving from one party to another?

The truth is that Atiku Abubakar has only left a party once not four times as Shaka and other pundits erroneously think. How do I mean? Lets follow the facts.

Atiku never left the Social Democratic Party. The party was dissolved on the 17th of November, 1993 with Atiku being a loyal member up until the day it was made defunct by the late Abacha.

He similarly did not leave the Peoples Democratic Party in 2007. He was pushed out by the re registration exercise engineered by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the express purpose of kicking out Atiku and his followers.

You cannot remain a member of a party when all your followers, who used to be legitimate and bonafide members of the party, are deregistered and refused re registration. Doing so would mean that you are not a leader.

And on the subject of Obasanjo I think we all know why he spits his venom at Atiku as he stood up to defend our democracy from the threat of dictatorship in the form of Obasanjo’s 3rd term agenda.

And Mr. Momodu is wrong to say that Atiku Abubakar was “was roundly trounced” in 2007. With all due redirect (respect?), Shaka can’t be more Catholic than the pope.

The late President Yar’Adua himself told the then United Nations Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon in May, 2007 that “the April elections had flaws and shortcomings”.

His successor was even more forthcoming. Speaking about the April 2007 elections in which he became the ultimate beneficiary, former President Jonathan said he was “embarrassed” by the election.

Speaking candidly about the election on April 8, 2014, Dr. Jonathan said “Although we took oath of office and the Supreme Court declared us winners, but each time one travelled abroad, people asked all kinds of questions that even got one angry. That was when I promised myself that if have an opportunity to oversee elections in Nigeria, no other President or Vice President should suffer that can kind of harassment and embarrassment by the international community”.

So if the main beneficiaries of those elections admitted that it was embarrassingly flawed, how can a bystander declare that a man who was cheated in that flawed process was ’roundly trounced’? If anything, Atiku Abubakar was roundly cheated!

Yes, the former Vice President is guilty of leaving the Action Congress after the 2007 elections but that was because the succeeding Umaru Yar’Adua administration had instituted the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee which had suggested ways of correcting the electoral excesses of the previous administration.

In fact, that administration reached out to Atiku Abubakar, acknowledged the wrong that the PDP had done to him and his members and then upon the untimely death of President Umaru Yar’adua, his successor, President Jonathan, invited him and his followers to rejoin the party they were kicked out off.

Nigerians, and Shaka it seems, have forgotten that after his return to the Peoples Democratic Party in 2009, Atiku remained loyal to the party even after he lost its Presidential ticket to the then incumbent president at the PDP primaries on January 14, 2011.

The issue we have in Nigeria is that we do not have a sense of history. If we did, it would have been remembered that the PDP became factionalized after the party’s special convention of August 31, 2013.

It was not just Atiku that was affected, seven PDP Governors, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives and more than a hundred Representatives and Senators.

Atiku did not leave the PDP in 2014. It was the PDP that left him and others of the PDP. The party became factionalized with two executives, one calling itself the PDP and the other calling itself the nPDP.

In fact, Atiku stubbornly remained in the PDP until Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Tinubu, Bisi Akande (then the APC interim National Chairman), Ogbonnaya Onu and other leaders of the APC visited him at his house in Abuja on the 19th of December, 2013 to lobby him to join their party as his own party was irreparably factionalized.

So, if you take an objective look at Atiku Abubakar, he may have been in more than one party, but he has always followed the progressive agenda wherever he has gone.

He has in truth only left a party once. He left the Action Congress to return to the PDP, a party he co-founded with other members of the original G-34.

Will he do so again? Well only time will tell as although the APC has belatedly begun to discuss the subject of restructuring, a policy which was in its manifesto it does not appear to be embracing it with any enthusiasm.

And with Professor Sagay’s recent exchange with the leadership of the APC, we now know that the progressive agenda left the APC long ago and the APC of today is not the APC that was formed in 2014.

In 1967, Nigerians said ‘Go on With One Nigeria’. In 2017, they are reechoing that message by saying ‘Go on With the Restructuring of Nigeria’.

Atiku gets that message, which makes him the man tailor-made for the Nigeria of today as he holds dear doing the right thing for our nation more than worrying about whether he is holding a brush, an umbrella or some other object.

And on the issue of restructuring, that is one idea that demonstrates the fidelity of Atiku Abubakar. He has consistently pushed for restructuring since July 13, 2001 when Jide Ajani, then the political editor of Vanguard, chronicled his fight to restructure Nigeria in an editorial titled ‘Nigeria: 6-1 Onshore-Offshore Jurisdiction Verdict’ published on that day.

The only redeemable part of Mr. Momodu’s musings is where he says Atiku “would have made a better choice to Buhari and even the much younger Rabiu Kwankwaso – a man very much like Buhari, a rabid bigot who sees everything from the prism of North vs South and would care less about burning his bridges to promote his narrow ethnic interests over and above national interests.”

Pray, if Atiku is, by Shaka’s own admission, better than the incumbent, why are we still even having an argument when it is obvious that the incumbent, who has taken us backward, rather than forward, is hell bent on coming back?

Mr. Richard Irikefe, a technology consultant, wrote from Lagos.